Sales management across generations – similarities not differences

Multi-generational sales teams

Multi-generational sales teams

There has been much written and many perceptions about Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y – what they want and how to manage them.  Much has been made of the differences as one moves from one generation to another.  Likewise there has been a temptation to paint the generations with a broad brush – for example: Gen Y has a sense of entitlement – they expect too much for too little.

We came across two pieces about generational differences. One was a post by Dean Newland and the other was a Bluteau DeVenny & Company white paper reporting on its research study. Both were about management in general but we thought the insights were of particular interest to those of us concerned about the world of sales.  So we did a little translation to sales – added a couple of ideas from our experiences.

Broad Generalizations. For starters, Dean Newland makes the fundamentally important point that to do a better job at management sweeping generalizations must be dismissed – like: all Baby Boomers value money over work environment quality or Gen Y members are too impatient to step by step move up the corporate ladder.

When taking a look at their sales teams, most sales managers are likely to have salespeople that cross generations.  The management goal is to coach and leverage each individual team member to build a superior sales team – broad generalizations about generational differences help very little to achieve that goal.

Leadership Characteristics. The Bluteau DeVenny research study involved respondents in a variety of organizations and companies across generations.  The focus was to determine what leadership characteristics each of the generations valued and how the respondents evaluated their leaders’ ability on those same leadership characteristics.  Some of the key findings were:

Regarding what people expect in a leader, the study showed across all generations the results were the same – the respondents wanted:

  • To be able to balance work and life goals
  • Work that was meaningful
  • Personal growth and development
  • To be involved not just directed and told what to do
  • Leaders that communicate openly and honestly

For sales managers the key walkaway in the results were about similarities.  Whether one was a Baby Boomer or a Gen Y, the expectations were the same. As the authors so nicely summarized, “the good news from the survey is that the shifts needed to adapt to the new generation of workers will be equally appreciated by all generation of workers.”  What Gen Y want, all workers want.  Gen Y just may not have the same patience to wait for it.

Regarding the second question – how are the leaders were rated – there was some good and bad news for the leaders.  The respondents respected their leaders for their experience and expertise for achieving results.  However, the leaders were not viewed as effective at communicating and implementing change and not good at dealing with difficult people concerns and issues.

Summary.  From a sales leadership and sales management perspective the mega walkaway is all generations have similar expectations and needs.  Best suggestion – transcend surface level differences and focus on improving performance and motivation by aligning your developmental efforts with the common values of your sales team.

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©2014 Sales Momentum®

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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One Response to Sales management across generations – similarities not differences

  1. Fred Swan says:

    Great article, every company has multi-generational staff. Getting everyone to pull in the same direction takes a deft hand of diplomacy and sensitivity.

    This comment in the article is right to the point.

    “The management goal is to coach and leverage each individual team member to build a superior sales team – broad generalizations about generational differences help very little to achieve that goal.”

    By evaluating your staff properly and guiding it in the right direction gives everyone a sense of accomplishment of the company goals.

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